The 2021 Post-Lockdown Friends & Happiness in the Workplace Survey

June 09, 2021

Paris Stevens

work friends laughing

"22% of employees in this year’s survey believe they’re equally or more productive when working alongside friends, with 21% saying it makes them more creative."

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The last year hasn’t been easy for anyone – at home or at work. Zoom calls and instant messaging have replaced social events and casual chats as the kettle boils. It’s been a challenge to maintain relationships with workmates, leaving employees feeling more isolated.

Here at Wildgoose, we wanted to find out what impact the last year has had on friendships with workmates – and the knock-on effect on business morale and productivity. So we asked employees from 1,052 companies, across the UK, about their work friendships, how important they were and how companies can encourage them.

Having conducted the 2017 Friends in the Workplace Survey four years ago, we have a valuable reference point for seeing how new modes of working have changed relationships with workmates.

In our latest survey, we aimed to find out:

How much do friendships with colleagues still matter?

  • How has the last year changed friendships in the workplace?
  • Has working from home (WFH) hindered friendships being formed and maintained? 
  • How can companies address this as hybrid working becomes commonplace?

Top findings:

  • More people prioritise happiness than salary
  • Having a good friend at work makes work more enjoyable and provides support
  • Face-to-face after-work drinks are the most popular team-building activity
  • People prefer in-person team-building activities to the virtual equivalents
  • London has some of the country’s loneliest employees: 47% don’t have a friend at work


Happiness vs Salary

Working patterns and methods have changed more over the last year than ever before. With that in mind, we asked people what was more important at work: their salary or their happiness.

The results revealed that happiness is more important to 58% of people. In 2017, this figure was slightly higher, at 61%, but a majority of the UK workforce still prioritise their happiness over monetary reward.

With recent changes to working practices being so fundamental though, companies cannot afford to take employees’ happiness for granted. One of the most obvious changes is the lack of human interaction, so employers will definitely need to spend some time considering friendships at work.



How do friends in the workplace impact our ability to work?

Research shows that having friends at work provides a whole range of benefits, including job satisfaction, higher productivity and emotional support with personal or workplace issues.

When asked how having a ‘work best friend’ impacts their job, nearly three in five (57%) people surveyed say it makes it more enjoyable. Interestingly, this figure was the same in the 2017 survey.

Some 22% of employees in this year’s survey believe they’re equally or more productive when working alongside friends, with 21% saying it makes them more creative. 21% also say work best friends have supported them through personal or workplace issues.

Employers will be interested to hear that 12% of people state they’re less likely to leave a company if they have a good friend there.



The benefits are plain to see, but are companies doing enough to encourage bonding between employees, particularly as WFH and hybrid working become the norm? More and more organisations may find that they need to help employees connect through team-building events.

What’s changed since 2017? UK workplaces are becoming lonelier

In 2021, 40% of UK employees don’t have friends in the workplace, compared to 37% in 2017, a small but significant rise of 3%. Some 15% now say they would like a work friend, ideally, compared to 10% in 2017. This suggests that people are feeling a lack of work friends more keenly as the pandemic keeps people apart.



In the last year alone, the study indicates that 5% of UK employees who have started at a new company or new department have struggled to make friends. 

What impact does company size have?

Employees at enterprise-sized companies (1,000+ employees) are most likely to see benefits from having friends in the workplace, with almost two-thirds (63%) saying it makes work more enjoyable. Other benefits include support for employees, greater productivity and employee retention.

  • 63% say friends make work more enjoyable 
  • 24% say having friends at work makes them as or more productive
  • A quarter (25%) look to workplace friends for support with workplace or personal issues
  • One in six (15%) are less likely to leave the company if they have workplace friendships

The results of the survey reveal that large companies and SMEs need to focus more on encouraging colleague friendships. In both cases, only around half of their employees have friends at work, while almost one in five would welcome more work friendships.

SMEs

  • 44% of employees don’t have friends in the workplace
  • 17% would like more friendships with colleagues
  • 5% have started at an SME in the last year and have struggled to make friends

Large companies

  • 45% don’t have friends in the workplace
  • 16% would like more friendships with colleagues
  • 8% have started at a large company in the last year and have struggled to make friends. This suggest some large companies are failing to integrate employees while working remotely

How does job seniority impact the data?

Our study indicates that friendships play a significant role in integrating new and young employees into a company. Almost one in three of those at executive level have needed support from colleagues, and almost one in five are more unlikely to leave a company where they have friends.

  • 29% have relied upon colleagues for support with workplace or personal issues
  • 19% executive-level employees say they’re more likely to stay at a company when they have colleague friendships

Yet this issue is not confined to younger employees, with the phrase ‘It’s lonely at the top’ ringing true, according to the survey figures. Directors have found it hardest to build friendships over the last year: 1 in 10 (10%) directors who started a new role over the last year have found it hard to make workplace friendships.



What can companies do to improve employee relationships?

After a year of social isolation for many, and with many people looking to form friendships at work, team-building efforts are more important than ever. We asked employees what their preferred method of team bonding would be.

  • A monthly after-work drink is the most popular way of improving relationships within a company: 46% of UK employees say that this is their preferred method of bonding. (This is down slightly compared to 2017, when 48% of employees chose drinks to improve colleague relationships)
  • Almost a third (30%) of those surveyed say they want a space to eat, socialise, and spend time with colleagues at work. (In 2017, this figure stood at 23% of employees, suggesting many people miss office environments)
  • Nearly a fifth (21%) of people say they’d favour a team-building weekend away


During the last year, many people have experienced virtual bonding activities for the first time – and the variety of these activities has greatly expanded. However, the majority of people we surveyed still prefer in-person activities, perhaps because they feel closer to workmates seeing them face to face. Taking part in activities like the Urban Explorer also gives employees the chance to get outdoors – something we’ve all come to appreciate more following lockdowns.

Comparing in-person activities and their virtual equivalents, the in-person option was more popular in each case. 

  • After-work drinks were 36% less popular when moved online, with less than a quarter of people preferring virtual drinks to face-to-face drinks
  • The was a 15% increase in people favouring team-building weekends over a virtual team-building activity
  • Playing sport in person was preferable to online gaming with workmates - 9% more chose a monthly sporting activity.

Yet as people return to offices around the UK and hybrid working becomes more common, companies will have to adapt their approaches to team building, not least because people are now aware of more options. And, as always, companies that listen to their employees will benefit from happier employees.



What’s the future for virtual social activities?

While it’s difficult to replace face-to-face contact when it comes to team building, hybrid working will continue, especially as people now expect it and companies realise it allows them to hire from a wider geographical area. So virtual social activities will still have some part to play. With this in mind, which employees will find it easier to adapt to the future of workplace team building?

Company size

  • Employees at enterprise-size companies are most likely to use virtual team building to build colleague relationships. Perhaps these people are more used to fostering relationships outside of the office and had already tried some virtual activities before the pandemic
  • One in eight UK employees at enterprise-level companies are happy to have social drinks over a virtual call. This figure drops to 1 in 12 at SMEs
  • Employees at enterprise-size companies are also more likely to prefer a virtual team-building activity, with one in 12 favouring them. Just 1 in 20 SME employees prefer the same type of activity

Age

  • Employees between the ages of 35-54 are most likely to prefer virtual team-building activities, maybe due to family considerations
  • Nearly one in five (18%) between the ages of 45-54 would prefer casual socials or drinks via a virtual call. This figure is one in six (16%) for people between the ages of 35-44


Location data – which areas work to live?

The majority (58%) of UK employees feel that general happiness in the workplace is more important than salary, but do priorities vary from place to place? We wanted to find out which areas in the UK are most motivated by money. And where values happiness in the workplace more? 

  • The majority of the UK places more value in workplace happiness (58%) than salary (42%)
  • In Wales, 68% of people say they would choose happiness over salary
  • In Greater London, this figure was 57%
  • At the other end of the scale is the West Midlands, where the majority (52%) of people are driven by salary. This was the only region in the UK where a majority of employees prioritised salary.


 

What else does local data tell us about friends in the workplace?

  • London employees have had more difficulties integrating into new workplaces than anywhere else - 8% started a new job over the last year and found it hard to make friends
  • The regions that see the greatest productivity increase with friends at work are Northern Ireland (28%), the North East (28%), and Scotland (27%)
  • Friendship in the workplace sees the greatest boost in the creativity of employees in Scotland (31%), followed by Greater London (27%), and Wales (24%)
  • Friends at work have been found to play a wider role in supporting employees through workplace or personal issues - this was most prevalent in Wales, where 26% said this was the case. This was also true in the North West (24%) and Yorkshire & the Humber (24%)

London

In total, we surveyed employees from 246 companies across Greater London. Here’s what we found:

  • London employees are among the loneliest in the country: 47% of employees in the capital don’t have friends in the workplace
  • Nearly a fifth (18%) of London employees are looking to their workplace to make social connections – London companies need to step up to help create friendships in the workplace
  • Our survey also found that companies in London have found it most challenging to integrate new employees into the workplace. 8% of employees say that they’ve started in a new company/role in the last year and have found it hard to make friends
  • With hybrid working set to continue, it’s crucial that companies effectively integrate new employees into the team – to get the most from them and retain people
  • One of the benefits of encouraging social connections and friendships in the workplace is employee loyalty. One in seven London-based employees are less likely to accept a position elsewhere if they have friends at work

How do people in London want to improve relationships with colleagues?

  • 51% say they’d like to socialise through work drinks
  • 32% were in favour of breakout areas, more than in most other regions of the UK. This signals that many in London are ready to return to the office, at least with a part-time hybrid working model
  • 25% like the idea of a team-building weekend away




Next steps: how can companies encourage friendships in the workplace?

Companies are still playing catch-up and adapting to home working, and now they face a new reality as hybrid working becomes more common. What’s important to remember throughout the next months and years is that humans are, by nature, social creatures. Interaction with colleagues is central to employees’ happiness and casual communication (not just work meetings) is a pivotal part of this.

As hybrid working asserts itself, companies need to continue reflecting their culture through remote working practice, but they should not underestimate the importance of team-building exercises. As well as helping to build new relationships between colleagues, they can also reaffirm existing friendships.

At Wildgoose, we offer in-person, hybrid and remote events:

James Bond-style Treasure Hunt

Urban Explorer

The Ultimate

Art Heist Escape Room for Hybrid Teams

Another vital cog in companies’ new practices should be a digital induction process. Even as hybrid working really takes off, many people will still start a new role before meeting new colleagues in person. Digital inductions can introduce both people and company culture to new starters, ensuring people feel a part of the company from day one.

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